Academic journal article Composition Studies

Integrating Multimodality into Composition Curricula: Survey Methodolgy and Results from a Cccc Research Grant

Academic journal article Composition Studies

Integrating Multimodality into Composition Curricula: Survey Methodolgy and Results from a Cccc Research Grant

Article excerpt


In recent years, scholars and teachers in both the broad field of Composition Studies and the more specialized arena of Computers and Composition Studies (Yancey, 2004; Seife and Hawisher, 2004; Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola, 1999; Ball and Hawk, 2006) have begun to recognize that the bandwidth of literacy practices and values on which our profession has focused during the last century may be overly narrow. In response, a number of educators have begun experimenting with multimodal compositions, compositions that take advantage of a range of rhetorical resources-words, still and moving images, sounds, music, animation-to create meaning.

In particular, the work of scholars in The New London Group (1996), Günther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen (1996, 2001; also Kress, 2003), and Cope and Kalantzis (1999) explore the understanding of alphabetic writing as one modality among many that individuals should be able to call on as rhetorical and creative resources when composing messages and making meaning. These scholars argue for a theory of semiosis that acknowledges the practices of human sign-makers who select from a number of modalities for expression (including sound, image, and animation, for example), depending on rhetorical and material contexts within which the communication was being designed and distributed. They also note that no one expressive modality, including print, is capable of carrying the full range of meaning in a text, and point out that the texts sign-makers create both shape, and are shaped by, the universe of semiotic resources they access.

For educators, the implications of this scholarly work are profound. In a 1999 chapter, "English at the Crossroads," in Passions, Pedagogies, and 21st Century Technologies, Kress described the impact of the exclusive focus on print and written language, noting that it

has meant a neglect, an overlooking, even suppression of the potentials of representation and communicational modes in particular cultures, an often repressive and always systematic neglect of human potentials in many . . . areas; and a neglect equally, as a consequence of the development of theoretical understandings of such modes.... Or, to put it provocatively: the single, exclusive and intensive focus on written language has dampened the full development of all kinds of human potential, through all the sensorial possibilities of human bodies, in all kinds of respects, cognitively and affectively.... (85)

If such work is rich in its theoretical grounding, however, its curricular and programmatic instantiations continue to emerge within the profession. Indeed, in 2005, when this survey was designed and conducted, a clear snapshot of who was teaching multimodal composing and at which collegiate institutions in the U.S. had yet to be reported. Nor did the profession know what new forms such composing projects were taking, how teachers were preparing themselves to design and assess these assignments, how they were motivated and recognized for such work within institutional contexts, or what environments students had access to when they undertook multimodal composing projects.

To remedy this situation, a team of researchers, funded by and working in conjunction with a research initiative of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, designed and distributed a survey focusing on multimodal composing. In the following sections, these authors provide theoretical support for using surveys in Composition research, outline the methods employed in crafting the survey, report on the data that it yielded, and provide some conclusions based on the data. Finally, the authors offer future research directions in multimodal Composition practices.


In examining modes of inquiry in Composition Studies, Steven North, in The Making of Knowledge in Composition: Portrait of an Emerging Field, notes Composition's thrift in the use of surveys as a research method (102). …

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